GIS Monitor Feb 1, 2001


-Autodesk Buys Gentry
-More on Autodesk GIS Design Server
-That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It: More on V8Ball
-Points of Interest
-Week in Review
-Back Issues

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Coming fast on the heels of their move into location-based services, Autodesk announced the completed purchase of Gentry Systems. Gentry, based in St. Louis, has been building on the Autodesk platform for most of its 13 years in business. The company produced the top selling AutoCAD based AM/FM/GIS system in the electric utility industry from 1992-97 according to Clauder Systems Research. With a staff of 50, Gentry supports 300 electric utilities located in 45 states and 10 foreign countries. Their customers tend to be smaller operations, such as towns and electric cooperatives, in contrast to massive implementations from Smallworld and Intergraph.

In recent years Gentry has hedged its bets, and worked with both Autodesk and ESRI. The product line includes products built on AutoCAD Map specifically geared to the design and management of utilites, links to trouble call applications, EDA (Embedded Distribution Analysis), as well as a map viewer. Utility Design System, UDS is geared toward commercial and residential electrical design. In March of 2000 Gentry entered into a relationship with ESRI to port its applications to ArcInfo 8. Nothing materialized from that relationship. In retrospect, it seems unlikely the small company would have had the development resources and funds for such a large project.

So, why should Autodesk purchase Gentry? This may be part of the ongoing consolidation in the market. All of the major third party application developers are slowly merging into larger concerns. Autodesk bought Softdesk and Bentley bought all of its Strategic Affiliates. Also, the acquisition of Gentry provides Autodesk’s GIS Division a solution to bring its new GIS Design Server into the electric utilities marketplace.

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I received follow up from Autodesk on some questions I had regarding their new GIS Design Server.

Extensions: The cartridges they mention in the literature (long transactions, routing) are not add-ons, but are included in the base price.

Pricing: Pricing is based per named user connection to the server. The client is a free add-on to AutoCAD Map (which is not free.) Autodesk would not give pricing at this time but suggests that it will be competitive with ESRI and others.

Customer size: The product is aimed at organizations with 10 or more active designers.

Data loading: Users load data through AutoCAD Map by specifying (mapping) DWG entities to database objects. Autodesk suggests that third party loaders, including one from Safe Software, will be available.

Projections: The server handles projections before delivery to the client.

OpenGIS Specification Conformance: Autodesk plans to seek conformance.

Other databases: Autodesk has no immediate plans to support databases other than Oracle.

Clients: For now, only AutoCAD Map, Autodesk MapGuide, and Autodesk OnSite are clients to the Autodesk GIS Design Server.


The U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Geospatial Technology Application Center (GTAC) is beginning a new teaching lab concept, Destination Lab. The US Space & Rocket Center claims to be the world leader in immersive simulation and interactive training. They are the people behind Space Camp and Aviation Challenge, where kids and adults play astronaut and experience simulated fighter pilot training. The Destination Lab is a collaboration between the Center and SRI International, the folks behind the .geo proposal, and Digital Earth. SRI also brings educational resources from its Center for Technology in Learning.

The lab offers 3-5 day project-based classes that include technology instruction, real-world application exercises, fieldwork and video teleconferencing with GIS hotshots. The classes, called retreats, will “revitalize” and “empower” attendees.

The “lab” locations vary. Ideally they are chosen to provide a “unique and relevant field study setting” that is “"wired" for high tech applications.” Destination Lab is “not a conference, a convention or a workshop” but “a field-based, hands-on, minds-on, immersive lab retreat.” For $3,000 you get 4 nights in a Florida hotel, meals, classes, and a ½ day admission to a Florida theme park. The first sessions are in Celebration Florida (the town that Disney built); later ones are in Lake Buena Vista and St. Augustine.

The first session in late February is titled: “Integrating Geospatial Technologies into 21st Century Management.” The two key instructors are URISA President, Lyna Wiggins, Ph.D., Department of Urban Planning and Policy Development, Rutgers and Scott Madry, Ph.D., a professor of Anthropology at UNC and founder and President of Informatics International, Inc., who used to be at Rutgers. The second session, in March covers “Geospatial Enabled Water Resource Management.” The faculty is TBA. A third session will address “Preserving the Past-Growth Management and Historic Preservation.”

Who’s supposed to attend? The first session targets: Planners, City Officials, Department Heads, City Managers, City/County Engineers. The second speaks to: EPA, State Officials, Conservation Office Employees, Water District Officials, City and County Management, URISA members, GITA members. As for experience, the labs are designed for novice through expert.

I confess to being a bit skeptical. I’m all for hands on learning, group work, and field experience. But this doesn’t sound all that new. It looks like some lectures, some fieldwork and some group projects – a mix already available elsewhere from vendors, universities and professional organizations. I’m not sure that the companies and organizations/agencies who employ the individuals noted above will fund this as training. I’ll be very curious to see what the first graduates have to say.


Some follow-up on my story last week questioning the legitimacy of an “underground” MicroStation site (V8Ball) did generate a response from the keeper of the site:

Hello Ms. Shutzberg (sic),

I must admit I'm a bit surprised at the attention you are giving me. In my mind, the most important thing is that I'm providing info on the next release of MS that no one else is. I'm getting a lot of positive response from visitors to my site and it is spurring me to continue on.


Also, the editor of MicroStation Manager, Randall Newton wrote:

My only involvement in V8 Ball Web site was when I agreed to run the anonymous "Cue" letter in MSM. I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere for more information.

No matter what the truth, Bentley still risks being the loser. If they did intentionally try to mislead their users, there’s bound to be a backlash. If they are in fact uninvolved, the fact that someone is scurrying around headquarters with a video camera and speaking publicly about unreleased software (probably while prohibited by a a non-disclosure agreement)...well, that doesn’t look too good either.


Last week I reported that GIS Café no longer requires registration to download their freebies. I was incorrect; you are still required to complete a one-time registration (with cookies enabled). Most of their freebies are freely available elsewhere without any registration.

GIS Café


-Continuing the retreat of “freebies” on the ‘Net, both PhoneFree and DeltaThree have begun to charge for previously free PC-to-phone calls. Net2Phone, the first player into that market is still free, but suggests it may soon charge. PhoneFree says they must charge since advertising has dried up. DeltaThree says its new goal is to target businesses instead of consumers.

-Update on MapReport. According to the folks at MapReport, the site that puts news on the map, they’ve done some tweaking to make the maps less cluttered and the locations more precise. The recent capture of the Texas fugitives happened where? In Colorado. The icon is in Texas. Keep at it!, a guide hosted directory, will offer free Web hosting for small business and personal sites. The best part, your site is categorized and searchable within is the 6th largest Web property. It has fine geography and GIS areas.

- Autodesk, with no fanfare, announced two new MapGuide Data Extensions: one for ESRI SHP and one for Autodesk DWG. These allow the MapGuide server to publish these formats without first converting them to MapGuide’s native format. The kicker: you must PAY for these. I suppose I can understand having to pay to support a “competing” format such as shape files. Still, that format is public and many vendors support it for free simply because it draws more users. I cannot, however, imagine asking loyal users to PAY to use Autodesk’s own native DWG format directly. That makes it seem as though the GIS Division is in competition with the rest of company. The extensions will be available later this year; no information on pricing.


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Adena Schutzberg
GIS Monitor Editor
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